Palm Springs LGBT film festival opens with happy ‘accident’ and heart transplant

If you’re a self-help junkie as I am — striving to be and do better — you probably believe the adage that there are no accidents. We’re supposed to learn something from every seemingly unintentional thing that happens in our lives, right? Yeah, and those things we call “accidents” are really gifts. Lastly, if Oprah says it — and I’m almost certain she has at some point — then it’s now carved in stone and some of our heads as truth. Period.

Well last night at Cinema Diverse I was among the happy recipients of organizer Michael Green’s “accident.” I’m referring to “Mariquita,” the short film that opened the fifth annual gay and lesbian film festival in Palm Springs. Prior to the screening, Green told the audience that he had intended to show a different film, “Margarita,” but a typo in an email to the filmmaker had different results.

The short we saw instead was about a 10-year-old boy in Miami, Fla., who announces that he’s gay during a family birthday party. You never actually see the kid, who with video camera in tow records the preparations for the party and part of the event itself.

What begins as a mass of jarring, in-and-out-of-focus images – just imagine a 10-year-old with a camera — slowly builds to a subtle but emotionally powerful message about anti-gay bullying and the pure wisdom of youth. This all happens in 13 minutes, which is great for viewers but must’ve been challenging for the filmmaker.

The only downside, surprisingly, is that the party prep part of the film may have gone on a bit too long.

After seeing the short, some wondered if the story was scripted or the actual story of a 10-year-old boy and his mother (Wow, the mother’s quiet strength and resolve to protect her son will make you teary-eyed.). It was that “real.”  Either way, the filmmaking was clever and highly effective.

Another smart approach to storytelling was on display with the feature, “Yossi,” that followed the short. It was a sequel to 2003′s “Yossi & Jagger,” a love story between two male Israeli soldiers.

“Yossi” picks up the story 10 years after Jagger’s death. The main character has lost the love of his life and is just going through the motions of life. He’s a young doctor who goes to the work (often sleeping at the hospital) and goes home. Sounds kinda boring, right? It’s not — because the lead actor and director make you, the viewer, empathize with and become Yossi. For example, when Yossi is lumbering along the hospital corridors, he’s shot from behind — as if it’s the viewer moving through his day. When he meets an arrogant hookup, you feel Yossi’s awkwardness and slight struggle between self-respect and the need for human contact.

Thoughout the first half of the film you’re hoping something significant is going to happen for this guy; you just don’t know what it could be.

Then, one day Yossi sees Jagger’s mother in the hospital waiting room and the reason he’s emotionally comatose is unveiled (for those who didn’t see the first film). He seeks and gets closure by fulfilling a goal of Jagger’s, and then he begins to live again. He gets a little help from a group of young Israeli soldiers he picks up at a convenient mart — picks up, as in gives them a ride after they’re stranded.

During the drive there’s chatter about music. Yossi prefers Mahler but isn’t married to listening to it, while most of the young guys want Middle Eastern hip-hop. Except the one sitting in the middle of the backseat. He knows classical music and so much more, as revealed when Yossi (we) notices his confident gaze in the rearview mirror.

What follows provides some of the lighter, funnier, poignant moments of the film. The young soldier allows Yossi, who also allows himself, to be completely vulnerable. By doing so, he finally mends his broken heart and becomes himself. Not the guy he was in the first film — that guy was uncomfortable with his gayness. The second film gives us the Yossi that Jagger believed in and loved, instead.

OK, I suspect I’ve shared too much for those who haven’t seen these films. They were both good movies and a strong start to what promises to be an entertaining and provocative Cinema Diverse.

The festival continues through Sunday. Tickets are $13. See the film and event schedule at www.cinemadiverse.ning.com.